On a cold day in March, while my brother and I carried your weakened, almost unconscious body out of a Jersey City hospital after your lumpectomy, our lives finally got caught in time's tight grip. You were no longer the young, energetic woman I knew all my life, that fierce, beautiful champion that a gay son could hardly hope to ask for. I saw for the first time the possibility of you in life's final theater, or, worse, the possibility of me living the lessons of life without my greatest teacher.
There will always be the unflinching devotion of a son to his mother, and history has shown many a similar story, and mine is similar too, except that I'm gay. A gay person's life journey can have be made difficult by being rendered... "different." You see, I never came out to our family. I never had to rehearse for weeks what to say, sit relatives down in a circle and make that traumatizing first confession -- "I'm gay" -- and leave the rest to the unforgiving hands of fate. Even now, when I hear of coming-out tales from my lesbian and gay peers, I always think of them as odd. I have no story to share, no experiences of family rejection, those growing-up trials and tribulations that mark the lives of so many LGBT people, haplessly for the worst. One day I just fell in love -- with another boy, that is -- and soon afterward I fell out of it, as teenagers do. The ephemeral love dissipated, and what seemed to be a particularly important learning moment was deemed a phase, not a gay phase but an everybody phase, made so normal in a family that never saw it as "different"
People say I'm lucky, but luck has nothing to do with it. We were a different family to begin with. Dad, much older than you, was a World War II veteran, old enough to be our grandfather. When I was young, he was already old and sickly, already paying the steep price of war. We lived humbly in Manila, our priorities reshuffled, basic survival being at the top of our list. Your priority was figuring out how to raise a family in the 1980s after my emaciated father had left for America, uncertain whether he would recover and return. It was during this time that I saw not so much a mother but a soldier, a woman who understood what she had to do as a mother of three, taking on multiple jobs and putting herself on the line as a Filipino matriarch in the machismo-laden Philippines. Like the many matriarchs before you, you displayed no hints of fear, no tears, no drama. You buckled our seats and drove our lives, the way fathers should. The fight was clear as day. This typhoon too shall pass.
That same typhoon seems to have arrived in America, and it troubles me to see your counterparts in an increasingly difficult world. The safe haven that was America is no longer. I smell the Manila of my childhood everywhere. I stand here not as the boy who has seen it all in another country but as a more mature man who is witnessing a familiar unraveling. Many American mothers are suffering these days. Conservatives are derailing feminist movements and, worse, reverting to misogynistic squabbles over women's bodies. Hunger has shown its open mouth in the land of milk and honey. Unemployment is a long, spiraling line with desperate, angry faces. And there are growing divisions on lesbian and gay issues in the public sphere, much confusion on what the new normal is, hate echoing at every bend of the human road.
I thought that the human road you took was simply armed with love and resilience, the ultimate weapons that drove you through your wars. But love can be so abstract, so sentimental. In retrospect, something just as powerful was at work: openness. Openness to the impossible, to the unfamiliar, to those places where fear could easily take hold. The whole time, when you watched how different your children were from others, you kept a nonjudgmental, open mind, which was not easy in the mind-numbing myopia of Catholicism. In the absence of role models and gay paradigms, you managed to let me be gay without knowing what that might mean, going against a homophobic stream so ingrained in the Filipino machista system. And because of that, my mind never stopped exploring, opening doors wherever I could.
As your body heals and blossoms back, I gather my own strength to interpret the lingering signs. I am now part of a generation of adults who are watching our parents age and go. The thought frightens me to no end. And I am brave, although not nearly as brave as you are. Yet I know that in the feminist world in which you raised me, I will find the ultimate lessons on how to face this overwhelming uncertainty of your twilight years and beyond. I am learning to be more open, to keep a more open mind and to have a heart so open that it can swallow all fears.
Your openly gay, openly feminist son,